Here's how to shop at eBay
eBay is as popular as it is divisive, but at the end of the day... should you shop there?
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Everyone loves a good deal. Online marketplaces, auction sites, and consumer-to-consumer platforms are where bargain hunters go to find deeply discounted and hard-to-find items, and there is no question that eBay can be one of the best venues for finding fresh-to-market vintage pieces as well as new “grey market” items that offer luxury goods at comparatively lower prices.
eBay is one of the most well-known and long-standing third-party seller platforms. When you’ve been around longer than most, you’re bound to have collected a few war stories. Almost everyone knows someone who was scammed by a seller—or a buyer—on eBay. With eBay making an increasingly larger presence in the luxury goods market, it begs the question of whether it’s smart to buy such high-ticket items from a third-party seller.
According to a June 2019 report by KDMarketinsight, the pre-owned luxury market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 10.8 percent and is estimated to be worth an astonishing $45 billion by 2024.
Since 2007, eBay has made a concerted effort to try to change its relationship with customers, to varying degrees of success. Just prior to this effort, eBay had faced lawsuits, including one from Tiffany & Co. alleging that eBay was selling counterfeit products. While there is no law against selling replicas and knockoffs, an overall feeling of buyer-beware followed.
eBay began to move away from a hands-off approach in 2007 in an effort to combat the sales of counterfeit items. Its approach included limiting the number of items a vendor can sell using one or three-day auctions and rolling out geographic restrictions on sales of luxury items from certain areas in the world where piracy is prevalent. At the time, according to a New York Times article, the number of auction listings on the site took a 5 percent dip—a possible sign that users were feeling less safe about making purchases through the marketplace.
Now, eBay has fashioned itself a marketplace that’s small-business and buyer friendly. The homepage of the site looks familiar, almost like Amazon’s landing page. Commonly searched or bought items appear near the top, and a section of “Today’s Deals” appears when you scroll down. The appeal of eBay, at least in comparison to other current online dealers, is that anyone can auction or sell something. So your chances of finding a first edition vinyl record, vintage decor to match your grandma’s home, or a Princess Diana Ty Beanie Baby are higher than if you searched on Amazon, Walmart, or similar marketplaces.
What is the new Authenticity Guarantee?
eBay is one of the world’s largest marketplaces for luxury watches and it recently rolled out a new program called its Authenticity Guarantee. The program provides professional authentication of items (so far only watches and sneakers) at no cost to you, the customer. The program also includes secure shipping, sometimes even requiring a signature upon arrival for items over $750, which provides peace of mind for any buyer whether they are an avid collector or someone who found a great deal.
The program is a noteworthy addition to eBay’s process, aimed at identifying fake products and giving buyers more confidence to shop for luxury items.
Authenticity guarantee for watches
To protect watch investments, eBay hires independent authenticators to evaluate any watch purchase over $2,000. They perform a multi-point inspection on crowns, bezels, dials, and more to ensure the product itself matches its description. All watches that sell for more than $2,000 are guaranteed by this agreement, including those put up for auction. Vintage watches are eligible, as well.
Authenticity guarantee for sneakers
eBay employs third-party authenticators who inspect Jordans and Yeezys over $150. The inspectors look at everything from stitching to laces to logos and more. Eligible sneakers will feature a badge that reads, "Authenticity Guarantee," meaning you can easily spot these items while browsing. Currently, the authenticity guarantee is only available for Jordans and Yeezys, meaning other brands are not yet eligible (and you'll have to buy at your own risk).
Why did eBay implement the Authenticity Guarantee?
We spoke with Tirath Kamdar, the GM of Luxury at eBay. He said that a big motivation for creating the program was hearing how much customers wanted peace of mind knowing the luxury products, like a $20,000 Rolex watch, were legitimate. He also said that eBay “wanted to protect our sellers. They don’t want to deal with potentially fraudulent buyers.” So the program is really for everyone interacting with the site.
Tirath explains that the program takes trust to another level that other marketplaces don’t offer. “An item might be authentic, but the shoelaces might not be authentic. Or even small things like the box, and this is important for authentication. We want to make sure the buyer is getting everything [they] expect to get from the item description page.”
eBay works with Stoll & Co., a leading provider of watch repair services to watch manufactures, retail jewelers, and consumers throughout the globe. eBay also works with Sneakercon, the world’s premier sneaker show, to authenticate sneakers. Looking to 2021, Tirath hopes to expand the items covered by the Authenticity Guarantee to include other high-end items like handbags and jewelry.
Does eBay guarantee refurbished products?
Since eBay is often the home of secondhand items, it has an entire hub dedicated to refurbished products. This program is a great place for finding deals up to 50% off the retail price for everything from power tools to blenders to laptops. However, the refurbished program is not part of the Authenticity Guarantee. Instead, there is a certification that sellers can achieve for products that meet strict requirements. The certified refurbished program allows some sellers to use the text "certified refurbished." The qualifying listings must meet four requirements that cover the physical look of the item, the standard of refurbishment, proof of authorized purchase, warranty, new packaging, and details about shipping and returns.
While the certified refurbished program can provide buyers with a sense of security while shopping, only some items are eligible for the listing. As of now, only laptops, portable audio—think headphones—power tools, small kitchen appliances, and vacuums qualify for the program. If you're looking at a product outside of these categories, you should proceed with more caution.
What about everything not covered by the guarantee?
Items not covered by the Authenticity Guarantee are like items you'd buy on other marketplaces: fair game, eligible for returns, but not a 100% safe bet. There is a chance you could be caught in a scam of some sort where you don't receive the product you think you are purchasing. You could also purchase an item and never receive it. While a scam is a serious threat, it can happen on many sites and is not exclusive to eBay. The best way to approach eBay's site is with a clear idea of what you are looking for, a standard of which sellers you feel comfortable buying from, and maybe even a little research on the item you want, like another online listing to compare photos, price, and details. All in all, eBay is a safe place to make purchases, but without the guarantee or certified refurbished stamp of approval, you're essentially shopping without insurance.
What should you look for in a seller?
Seller ratings aren’t specific to eBay, but they carry a lot of weight. Like on Etsy or Amazon, it’s always reassuring to see a 4-star rating and positive reviews. It’s also important to see the number of sales; it helps with credibility and you can get a better sense of security as a buyer.
Jason Blanck, our Senior Director of Business Development and resident watch enthusiast, recommends reviewing a seller’s ranking, location, years in business, recent feedback and wouldn’t recommend “buying from sellers that have lower than 95% approval or have not been in business for more than one year.”
Should you worry about scams?
Even when you’re careful, you may still be caught in a scam. Michael J. Mitchell, AKA Mike the Compass, is the owner of Sneakerlife and has been an eBay vendor since 2008. He’s been purchasing from eBay sellers for over 15 years and shared an experience of how he was scammed. Mike uses eBay for his sneaker business because it’s practically free marketing and the audience is international. With sneakers, sellers can often team up with an authenticator to “prove” shoes are the real deal. But even so, Mike purchased a pair of shoes for a deal that was “too good of a price, even on eBay.” Once he had the shoes, he was able to tell they were knock-offs, but the seller continued to claim they were real. Mike submitted a complaint to eBay about the seller, and because he had documented the whole process, he was able to get a refund within 2 weeks. Mike also explained that he’d been scammed as a seller as well, but with eBay’s new authentication process, he trusts that eBay has his back.
Austin Daniels, a watch guru located in Japan, is skeptical of eBay’s luxury watch market. Even with the new Authentication Guarantee, he notes that buyers should be cautious when shopping for high-end items, especially if they are not familiar with all aspects of the product. “They need to [take] note of words like 'custom' and 'aftermarket.' These words indicate third party parts. They are detrimental to the value of the watch. A watch could be fully 'authenticated' and pass muster in that regard, but the details of the listing indicating 'custom' parts would reveal that it's a compromised piece. New buyers might miss those nuances if they rely too heavily on the authentication program.”
Though Austin says he doesn’t think counterfeit watches are the norm on sites like eBay, he says that after doing research and becoming a “watch guru” he recognizes that watches can be altered in numerous ways, including aftermarket parts, parts that aren't period at all, repainted dials, and disastrous polishing jobs that impact the overall product’s verifiability. And since it’s not public who is doing the authenticating, it’s up to the buyer to decide how comfortable they are with a somewhat anonymous professional deciding the authenticity of their item.
It is worth noting that eBay has a Money Back Guarantee to help prevent fraudulent items and scams. Shoppers say it’s reliable and not overly time-consuming as long as you have the necessary information and the product you received (or shipping documentation if you didn’t receive your item).
Should you trust eBay?
As the buyer, this decision is entirely up to you. If you’re searching for hard-to-find pieces or expensive items, the new Authenticity Guarantee can provide confidence that you’ll receive the item you’re purchasing and it’ll look (and be) as it should. Though, if you’re a more experienced collector you may want to do additional research or even reach out to sellers about items you’re considering in order to be fully certain about authenticity and pricing.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.